Nov 12/98: Nisga'a vote raises more questions than answers

NISGA'A VOTE RAISES MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

1. Only 51% of Nisga'a vote 'yes' to deal
2. Watch Glen play Nisga'a results to his advantage
3. Nisga'a vote opponents call for review

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news articles may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. They are provided for reference only.]


CLOSE VOTE ON NISGA'A DEAL 'DISAPPOINTING'

The Vancouver Sun
November 12, 1998
Dianne Rinehart

Premier Glen Clark and provincial Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick acknowledge they are disappointed that only 51 per cent of eligible Nisga'a voters counted so far have approved B.C.'s first modern-day treaty.

There are still 382 votes to be counted because some voters had not had their eligibility ruled on, referendum commissioner Corinne McKay said Wednesday.

The commission expects to announce the results of those votes today, and according to Lovick, they may raise the percentage of eligible voters supporting the deal to 60 per cent.

Still, Clark and Lovick lamented the close vote, after initially expressing jubilation that about three-quarters of those who did vote had approved the deal.

A spokesman in Clark's office said Tuesday the premier was "disappointed" at the 51-per-cent result. "But he attributes that gap to the fact the Nisga'a negotiators did make serious concessions that obviously did not please everyone."

Lovick echoed those views. "It isn't an overwhelming majority. The reason for that is because it is a difficult decision for Nisga'a. As you know, they have been cross-pressured from people in their own community as well as from others who say 'You gave away too much,'" Lovick said.

The Nisga'a treaty, finalized in August, cedes 2,000 square kilometres of land, a cash settlement of $190 million and self government to the 5,500-member band. The Nisga'a had claimed 25,000 square kilometres.

To be eligible, voters had to be 18 and over, and have a Nisga'a mother or grandmother.

Meanwhile the treaty faced other hurdles:

- Some band members who oppose the deal are questioning whether the treaty even got a 51- per-cent mandate.

- Two polls released by CBC and Global TV this week indicate a majority of respondents want a B.C.-wide referendum on the deal.

- The government is filing its response next week to two suits filed in B.C. Supreme Court that say the treaty is unconstitutional, said a spokesman in the premier's office.

Frank Barton, a Nisga'a from Kincolith, is one of those Nisga'a who oppose the deal and he questions whether it is truly supported by 51 per cent of eligible Nisga'a voters.

Barton questions the fact that only 2,389 Nisga'a out of a total population of about 5,500 were registered to vote. Even discounting those under 18 it should have come to 3,000 he said.

And he argued that those who did not vote in the referendum, but had registered, were voting 'no' and should be counted as such. He said some people told him they didn't bother to go to the voting polls after registering because they had been told that if they didn't vote it would be counted as a 'no.'"

Barton was one of two Nisga'a from Kincolith, along with James Robinson, who had earlier filed a request for an injunction on the signing of the deal arguing the Nisga'a had not been properly consulted about the treaty before it was signed on their behalf. He objects because the treaty gives up 15,000 square kilometres claimed by the Kincolith band, he said.

The treaty must still be ratified by the provincial and federal governments and though they both have majority governments, the deal is opposed by the official Opposition in both houses -- the B.C. Liberals and the federal Reform.

As well, there are two court suits filed asking for a ruling on its constitutionality from both B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Fishermen's Survival Coalition.

A spokesman in the premier's office said the government will not wait until a court decision is handed down to introduce legislation to ratify the deal in the legislature, expected sometime in November.

But Campbell said that would be a mistake.

"The worst thing that can happen is we go into the house and pass a piece of legislation which is clearly unconstitutional when the question is before the courts."

Clark remained adamant he will not hold a referendum on the Nisga'a treaty despite two recent polls that indicate the majority of respondents want a chance to approve or reject the deal.

Tuesday the CBC released results of a MarkTrend poll that found 58 per cent of respondents want a referendum on the treaty, up 12 percentage points from August. At the same time a McIntyre & Mustel poll released by Global Television found 59 per cent of respondents want a referendum.

The CBC poll is accurate to plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Global poll is accurate to plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Clark discounted the results. "People instinctively answer 'yes' when they are asked if they want a referendum on an issue.

"But I really think there are times where it's simply not the right thing to do. This is a question of minority rights and aboriginal people making compromises, exchanging those legal rights for treaty rights."

Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Tuesday he won't allow a free vote on the treaty when it goes to the House of Commons early next year.

Chretien promised to impose caucus discipline. The prime minister's position is the reverse of that taken by Clark, who has promised a free vote in the legislature.

"It's a very important thing," Chretien said after meeting with Chief Joseph Gosnell, Nisga'a Tribal Council president.


WATCH GLEN PLAY NISGA'A RESULTS TO HIS ADVANTAGE

The Vancouver Province
November 13, 1998, p. A6
Michael Smyth

Glen Clark says he's "disappointed" that the Nisga'a people haven't endorsed their treaty by landslide numbers. Don't kid yourself. A landslide was the last thing Clark wanted. A close vote by the Nisga'a actually helps Clark because it makes the treaty less difficult to sell. This way, he can argue that the treaty is a genuine compromise agreement because the Nisga'a themselves are divided over it. It makes you wonder if the architects of the treaty wanted a close vote all along.

Why, for example, does ratification of the treaty require 50 percent of eligible voters to say Yes, instead of those who actually cast ballots? That means if you stay home - and 15 per cent of eligible Nisga'a voters did just that - you effectively vote No. Just what the spin-doctors ordered. But even without the conspiracy theories, the Nisga'a referendum is still creating plenty of controversy. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell yesterday raised the possibility of voting irregularities in a letter to federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart. Campbell particularly wants to know why there were only 2,376 eligible voters among a Nisga'a population of 5,500. You have to be 18 to vote, of course, but the number still looks low when compared to the most recent statistics.

Meanwhile, the Nisga'a also voted on a new constitution in the referendum - a constitution they saw only a week before the vote. But if you want to look at the constitution, presuming you're a non-Nisga'a, forget it. Just like the 99 page treaty-in-brief prepared for the Nisga'a people, this document is secret. That is troubling for the many British Columbians still undecided about the treaty. It also reflects poorly on Nisga'a leader Joseph Gosnell - a sympathetic figure for many, but one who has kept an unusually low profile throughout the debate. Gosnell and the rest of the negotiators have allowed secrecy and political posturing to over-rule openness and non-partisanship.

But that's the way Clark wanted it all along. By calling the treaty "a Glen Clark deal" and spending $5 million to promote it, Clark touched off a political firestorm. That put Campbell in a jam: Either fight back or leave the field open for BC Reform leader Bill Vander Zalm to steal the issue away. Campbell fought back. And now we're looking down the jaws of one hell of a legislative session. Clark wanted a political war on this treaty, largely to make people forget about the faltering economy. Campbell has played his game so far. But something tells me the economy will still dominate question period when the legislature returns, no matter what Clark wants.

Letters to Michael Smyth: msmyth@direct.ca


NISGA'A VOTE OPPONENTS CALL FOR REVIEW

Canadian Press
November 15, 1998
Greg Joyce

VANCOUVER (CP) - The voting process that led to the Nisga'a approving a landmark treaty appears flawed and should be investigated, two prominent opponents said Friday.

Frank Barton, a Nisga'a and longtime resident of suburban Richmond who is also a hereditary chief, called Friday for an independent inquiry into alleged Nisga'a voting irregularities.

Barton said he will write to Stewart and Solicitor General Andy Scott requesting the inquiry.

"I'm going to ask them to hold an inquiry into the treaty process right from the start," he said in an interview. "The November 6th and 7th vote was rushed to keep people off guard."

He said the Nisga'a referendum committee, responsible for administering the vote, were all Nisga'a treaty supporters.

Meanwhile, B.C. Liberal Leader Gordon CampbelI says in a letter to federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart that results of the Nisga'a referendum "raise a number of questions that we now ask you to publicly answer."

Campbell's letter posed eight questions.

But his primary concern is whether Stewart is "satisfied that all facets of the Nisga'a referendum, including the preparation of voters' lists, the voting, and the vote validating and counting, are acceptable in all respects?"

A spokesman for the federal minister was not immediately available for comment.

But Harry Nyce, a Nisga'a Tribal Council negotiator, said in an interview from New Aiyansh that a representative from the B.C. and federal governments supervised the voting last weekend.

The two governments also had representatives at meetings held in the four Nass Valley communities to explain the final agreement to Nisga'a citizens, said Nyce.

"Some people are sore losers," said Nyce in reference to Campbell and Barton. "They're not satisfied that a good thing has been done."

The treaty, the first modern-day agreement affecting natives in B.C., still must be approved by the B.C. and federal governments.

Campbell has filed a lawsuit contending the treaty establishes a third level of government and is therefore a constitutional amendment. Under B.C. law, a constitutional amendment must be subject to a provincewide referendum.

Premier Glen Clark has refused to allow a referendum on the treaty.

Nisga'a band members voted 61 per cent to ratify the treaty. It required a 50 per cent plus one majority of eligible voters to pass.

Of 2,020 ballots cast, the treaty received 1,451 Yes votes, 558 No votes and 11 ballots were spoiled. There were 2,376 eligible voters.

Barton and Campbell both assert that the number of eligible voters was lower than the number the Nisga'a referendum committee identified.

Barton has tried repeatedly to derail the treaty, saying members of the Kincolith band weren't given adequate information about the treaty and that the Nisga'a gave away too much to federal and B.C. negotiators.

But Nyce said the tribal council established an election committee early in the process, set up a toll-free number, called meetings and did mail-outs in an effort to find eligible voters.

"We're the most democratic people that have ever gone through a process like this," said Nyce. "Anything we do is sanctioned at a convention."

B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick delivered a stinging rebuke in a letter Friday to Campbell.

Lovick said Campbell attacks the credibility of the Nisga'a ratification committee and "the Nisga'a people themselves."

"This is comparable to challenging Elections B.C. or Elections Canada. The difference is that the (committee) was established by aboriginal people.

"Would you dare make the same allegations if these were not aboriginal people? Lovick asked in the letter.

The treaty is a major development in B.C. because treaties were never signed with the exception of some on Vancouver Island and Treaty 8 in northeastern B.C., both in the 19th century.

The treaty cedes 2,000 square kilometres of land in northwestern B.C., a provides a cash settlement of $190 million and self-government to the 5,500-member band.

The Nisga'a had claimed 25,000 square kilometres.


Letters to the Vancouver Sun: sunletters@pacpress.southam.ca


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